Subsea World News spoke with Durval Tavares, the co-founder and CEO of Aquabotix, a provider of underwater drones and cameras for commercial and military applications.
In an email interview, Mr Tavares explained how he decided to start the company, and unveiled the next steps in the company’s development.
He also talked about the concepts of the Aquabotix’s signature products, the Endura ROV, Hybrid ARV and AquaLens Connect.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and the company. What is the company involved with and how did it all start?
I co-founded Aquabotix in 2011 and have served as CEO since the company’s inception. Prior to founding the company, I worked at Fidelity Investments for 10 years as a senior executive responsible for leading new product development. Along with earning my BSEE in Electrical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, I have more than 30 years of experience in technology, defense and finance in both the private and public sectors. I’ve also logged more than 20 years working with underwater technology, including work at the Naval Underwater Warfare Center.
My combined passions for technology, engineering and the ocean led to the creation of Aquabotix, the publicly traded underwater robotics company. Based in Fall River, Massachusetts, Aquabotix manufactures commercial and industrial-grade underwater drones and underwater cameras for commercial and military applications.
Aquabotix currently has more than 350 vehicles and 500 underwater camera units in market, respectively. Our products are also deployed in more than 45 countries around the world and on every continent except Antarctica.
Recently, Aquabotix raised $7 (AUS) million through an initial public offering on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) to catapult the company’s growth in the Asia-Pacific region.
Tell us about your product line and what markets are you aiming at?
Aquabotix currently offers three product lines for commercial, high-end consumer and military applications. Our portfolio includes remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), hybrid autonomous/remote underwater vehicles (ROV/AUV hybrid) and underwater camera systems.
Our products include the following:
- Endura ROV: Introduced in 2016, Endura is easy to use, portable and can be customized with sensors to complete simple or complex missions. The ROV is single-person deployable and piloted using iPad or laptop applications. The ROV also features a five knots of thrust, a sturdy hydrodynamic design and six degrees freedom of motion to allow users to fly through the water with intuitive controls.
- Hybrid ARV: The Aquabotix Hybrid ARV is the first true hybrid AUV/ROV for shallow water tasks. Hybrid ARV searches wide areas using an untethered AUV mode, and conducts detailed inspections using tethered ROV mode. The ARV is single-person deployable and battery operated.
- AquaLens Connect: The AquaLens Connect is an underwater camera system designed to capture high quality underwater video and still images at the click of a button. It captures full 1080p HD video and transfers a live feed to the surface on the user’s iPad or laptop computer.
Aquabotix’s products are utilized in commercial, educational, industrial, government, military and recreational applications by anyone looking to explore underwater. Aquabotix is focused on targeting the following markets: aquaculture; defense; oil and gas; infrastructure; research; and law enforcement. Our customers include U.S. and foreign militaries; boat and port security agencies; and inspectors of dams, drinking water, fish farms, piers and ships.
Aquaculture, especially, is a very important field to us. Feeding the world’s ever-expanding population requires new thinking about sources of food and aquaculture is rapidly expanding to bridge demand. While the monitoring of fish farms has historically been performed by divers, it has become an increasingly expensive, time consuming and dangerous process. Our ROVs and stationary cameras provide a low cost and efficient method of inspecting nets, inspecting moorings, assessing feeding habits and retrieving morts.
What sets you apart from other underwater robotics companies?
What immediately sets us apart from other underwater robotics companies is that we’re the world’s first publicly-traded underwater drone company. Additionally, we were the first to enable our customers to control underwater drones via the iPad.
Our single-person deployable products also adhere to a 3-3-3, easy-to-use format: 3 minutes from case to water; 3 hours to basic driver competency; and 3 missions to become an expert without formal training.
Additionally, our products feature the most hydrodynamic design on the underwater robotics market today, helping our vehicles not only handle higher currents with greater efficiency but be faster – up to 5 knots of thrust – in the process.
The most important unique differentiator, however, is that Endura is a fully digital platform. This creates a few different advantages:
- The user can use their own laptop/iPad to control the vehicle. They do not need a proprietary control box from Aquabotix. Our Aquabotix app – which performs commands at the touch of a button – can be used on any laptop or iPad to control the vehicle, record photos, videos and data, and perform diagnostics.
- The Aquabotix app allows for diagnostics to be performed on the vehicle at the work site.
- All recordings can be saved directly to the vehicle’s onboard memory at the click of a button. There is no need for a separate recoding module.
- Remote live viewing is possible because of the digital platform.
Currently, we are the only digital inspection-class ROV platform to offer live remote viewing capabilities.
Could you tell us about your ‘Live Remote Viewing’ feature?
Live Remote Viewing is a new product feature that enables real-time underwater viewing and connectivity between Aquabotix’s products and remote customers via the cloud, an important technological innovation benefitting both our company and our clients when it comes to exploration.
Designed specifically for the Endura and AquaLens, Live Remote Viewing utilizes remote diagnostics to allow off-site customers to monitor multiple inspections, operations and explorations from a single platform in real time. Given that IoT (Internet of Things) is changing the way our world communicates and interacts, we felt the same concept should apply under the water. Through Live Remote Viewing, multiple underwater technologies can come together on one platform – providing for a game-changer in the world of underwater robotics.
Live Remote Viewing, now available to all Aquabotix customers, is also designed for use across a wide range of industries, including aquaculture and infrastructure. For the aquaculture industry, the feature will enable higher quality, more cost-effective inspections of fish farms. Customers will be able to access to continuous live feeds from the Endura ROV that can monitor the condition of the fish and nets, inspect moorings and assess feeding habits to prevent overfeeding.
You’ve recently started trading on the Australian Securities Exchange, how are you satisfied with the initial IPO and how will be funds be used?
We were very pleased our initial IPO closed substantially oversubscribed at $7 million, and are proud to be the first and only publicly-traded underwater drone company globally. The level of interest in the underwater robotics industry and in Aquabotix shown by institutional and retail investors in Australia and internationally during the IPO validates the six years of work we have invested in catapulting Aquabotix into this leadership position.
We are using the money from the public offering to hire approximately 10 more people to expand our sales, marketing and operations teams. Additionally, we will be using money generated by the IPO to push further into both the military and recreational drone markets and invest in research and development.
What are the next steps for Aquabotix?
Along with hiring more staff and expanding our operations abroad, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, Aquabotix is also hard at work enhancing our product line for consumers. We have already begun work on an unmanned underwater drone designed for the consumer market. We are currently collaborating with the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, Massachusetts on this drone.
This project signals Aquabotix’s advancement into the consumer space, potentially opening a large market segment for our company. Given that the underwater drone world is about five to seven years behind the aerial space, it’s become clear just how quickly consumer-grade aerial drones have proliferated people’s everyday life. This trend will translate to underwater drones in the years to come and Aquabotix aspires to be the leader in that space.
Additionally, Aquabotix is working on building out an extensive distributor network in the U.S., Australia and elsewhere internationally for the company’s commercial, industrial, and military-grade products.
Aquabotix also recently introduced a new model of its Endura ROV designed specifically for the offshore energy market. Endura NRG is engineered to be more dependable in high-current situations offshore and effective across a wide range of underwater inspection applications. Among its standout features, the Endura NRG includes a grabber arm for stability that enables the vehicle to stay anchored in high currents; and a 360-degree external camera that allows customers to drive the vehicle into currents and point the camera toward inspection areas.
We ultimately remain concentrated on continuing to rollout innovative products over the coming months and years that will help accelerate the growth of Aquabotix and further contribute to the underwater robotics industry.